November 2009


Author :  Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Date of First Publication :  March 2006  (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition:  William Morrow

Date of Publication for this Edition :  December 2006  (Mass Paperback)

Publisher for this Edition :  Harper Torch

ISBN 10: 0-06-085398-0

ISBN 13: 978-0-06-085398-3

No. of pages : 432

The Story:

Heaven and Hell had left their agents on Earth since the dawn of time on Earth — an angel to make sure things go right and a demon with the express mission to wreak havoc on mankind.  Things seem to be going so well for both through the centuries; but now the powers-that-be both above and below decide it is time for the showdown between good and evil.

Crowley, the demon had been charged by Hell to oversee the coming of the Anti-Christ.  But hey, he’s enjoying the twenty-first century and Earth is much more exciting than Hell.  Aziraphale, the angel, also in his comfort zone on Earth, finds himself much more comfortable being with humans than with the “hosts on high”.  Both are loath to see THE END.  So angel and demon strike an unlikely alliance to divert the Prophecies and avert Armageddon.

Only no one knows there was a mix-up in the hospital.  Both Crowley and Aziraphale try to influence the little boy, Warlock, to thwart his nature as an Anti-Christ.  Only too late did both realize that Warlock is just a normal boy;  it is Adam who is the Anti-Christ but he had grown up outside their influences.  So, Crowley and Aziraphale both race against time and the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse (Hell’s Angels) to see if they still stand a chance of saving the world.

The Review :

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett make a rollicking great writing tandem with Good Omens.  I had loads of laughs with this one. The authors must have had a ball collaborating on creating their funny version of  the Biblical Apocalypse.  And got paid for it too!  Lucky guys!

I wish I had read a Neil Gaiman and a Terry Pratchett book to discern which parts were influenced by which author; unfortunately, this is my first time with both and I had to pick up a co-authored book.

Crowley, a dapper demon  and the bookish angel Aziraphale are both lovable characters you wish you could get to know for real.  Despite the overall hilarity in this book, Gaiman and Pratchett throw in some philosophic bones to chew on from time to time, in their characters’ dialogues :  

“Well”, said Crowley….”haven’t you ever wondered about it all?  You know–your people and my people, Heaven and Hell, good and evil, all that sort of thing?  I mean why?”

“As I recall, ” said the Angel stiffly, “there was the rebellion and—“

“Ah yes.  and why did it happen, eh?  I mean, it didn’t have to, did it?”  said Crowley, a manic look in his eye.  “Anyone who could build a universe in six days isn’t going to let a little thing like that happen.  Unless they want it to, of course.  “

“Oh come on.  Be sensible,” said Aziraphale. doubtfully.

“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley.  “….If you sit down and think about it sensibly, come up with some very funny ideas.  Like : why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!”?

“I don’t remember any neon.”

Metaphorically, I mean. I mean, why do that if you really don’t want them to eat it, eh?  I mean, maybe you just want to see how it all turns out.  Maybe it’s all part of a great big ineffable plan.  All of it.  You, me, him, everything.  Some great big test to see if what you’ve built all works properly, eh? You start thinking :  it can’t be a great cosmic game of chess, it has to be just very complicated Solitaire……”

Well, why indeed?

To Read Or Not To Read :

Feeling bored?  Good Omens makes a good cure for a lazy weekend.  Its irreverent, wry wit,  goofy characters, wacky plotline, and footnotes about funny minutae just make this jocular bundle worth picking up.  Take this little aside for instance :

The end justifies the means, thought Aziraphale.  And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. *

Footnote: * This is not actually true.  The road to Hell is paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen.  On weekends many of the younger demons go ice skating down it.

Unless you absolutely do not possess a shred of humor where Biblical prophecies are concerned or are a salesman of any kind—door-to-door and telemarketers included,  this book will tickle your funny bone.

Indeed, “the Apocalypse has never been funnier.” —- Clive Barker

My Mark :  Very Good!

Another good challenge completed satisfyingly earlier than the deadline.  I’ve enjoyed the no-pressure to read challenge although I took it upon myself to stick to the list I created and not deviate.  I started with eight titles and added two more to total 10 books (my list here) —actually a very lazy count given the generous three months the challenge runs on.    But at least I’ve made a small inroad, albeit a miniscule one, in my TBR pile and also in my On The Shelf books I’ve listed since I started this blog about a year ago.

As far as the Fall Into Reading 2009 is concerned, I have finished it; but I know my efforts are mediocre at best (in terms of volume)  and I hope to do better next time this challenge comes around.  So, I should have to dive into more books for next year’s Fall Into Reading challenge or pile on the pressure by joining more challenges, aside from this one.

For this exercise, I discovered wonderful Gothic authors like Elizabeth Kostova and Tobsha Learner with their books, The Historian and The Witch of Cologne, respectively,  as two of the best books I’ve read .   Both have exceptional writing styles and concepts that are worth your time imbibing.  But Richard North Patterson’s Exile comes out at the top as well being one of the best contemporary thrillers I’ve read in a long time for its current relevancy and well-researched, impartial presentation of the Mid-East crisis.   This is definitely a very informative book written to encourage your interest in very real world issues with a well-written exciting legal drama, that anyone concerned with the Arab-Israeli crisis should read.

A close second to these three would be William Young’s The Shack presenting deep Christian philosophies made simple for the average person, rendering the concepts even more inspiring with better understanding.

To Callapidder Days : a huge thank you for hosting the challenge.  I’ll certainly be back for the next.

Now that I’m done and done early, I promise to list several more next time this challenge comes around.

Finally, my last book for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009.  I made very good time despite adding two more books to the list.  But early as it is, I’ll have to wrap up as the Holidays draw near and my chances to read more books decrease as things are starting to get hectic.

I’ve wet my feet in breadmaking and I’m experimenting on perfecting scrumptious cinnamon rolls and ensaimadas (Filipino brioche) for gift-giving.    As I’ve never baked anything except for the occasional brownies, I forsee myself ambitiously wrestling with bread recipes, baking my day away, and snatching up my book only in between rising times.  So, let’s see how many more reviews I can dish out.

This book was a great finale to the challenge, albeit  a dark and brooding one.

Author :  Tobsha Learner

Publication Date :  January 2, 2007  (Mass Market Paperback)

Publisher :  Tor Books

ISBN-10: 0765350467

ISBN-13: 978-0765350466

No. of pages :  480

The Story :

Ruth bas Elazar Saul is daughter of the chief rabbi of the Jewish quarter of Cologne and a very good midwife with very unconventional methods.  Her  advanced  midwifery skills coupled with her studies in Kabbalah, taints Ruth’s reputation with suspicions of witchcraft in an era paranoid about heretics and devil worshippers.

She becomes the unfortunate target of the malevolent obsession of a Spanish friar and head of the Inquisition to Cologne.  Solitario takes his vengeance on an unknowing Ruth simply because she is the daughter of the woman who had jilted him and shredded his pride many years back.  Ruth is tried for witchcraft; but in the process gains the interest of the cleric, Detlef  von Tennen, cousin and close aide to the Archbishop of Cologne.

Detlef falls madly in love with Ruth and does everything in his power to avert her fate.  He succeeds and both start a love affair that in its time,  was unforgivable to both Jews and Catholics alike.  Amid this difficult union, Ruth and Detlef must struggle to live in a dangerous century at war with new philosophies threatening to overthrow its established beliefs, power and social structures.

The Review :

The book opens with “a woman writhing in labor”  which gave me the correct impression that I’d have a toe curling time with this one.

Learner is  an intense,  graphic writer who writes with a sensuality that is both raw and elegant.  Her torture scenes feel  horrendously realistic ; her descriptions of everyday life and her characterizations are rich and intimate, full of vivid details of seventeenth century Cologne, its lifestyle, its predominant psyche, and its prevailing social and religious atmosphere.

This novel is first and foremost a microcosmic representation of  a Europe inexorably marching toward the Age of Enlightenment, torn at one end by traditional society clinging tenaciously and fearfully to established institutions of power, thoughts, and morals and on the other, by radical philosophies and emerging new acceptances by free thinkers or the libertines of that time.

Solitario, the Spanish  Inquisitor, is the embodiment of the 17th century Roman Catholic Church, an institution reacting dangerously to threats to  its centuries-old European dominance by the emergence of new thoughts, values, mores and the new Protestant religion.  He is obsessed about bringing onto the Inquisition table  the Jewess, Ruth, and the breakaway cleric, Detlef, both of whom represent radical opposition to the faith which have begun to erode the Church’s right to absolute power.

Stories like these make me glad I was born in the 20th century, where we have education, modern conveniences, good medical knowledge and practices, and in most parts of the world, respect and freedom for all sorts of religions and ideas.  Imagine living in fear of torture and death because your ideas are heretically opposed to the prevailing beliefs of a Church which hold both  secular and spiritual domains in its grip.

It was also interesting for me to find out that Judaism has its own brand of occultism.  It has its own demons, grimoire, incantations, spells, and talismans.  The Kabbalah is practiced by a certain Jewish sect which does not find ready acceptance in the general Jewish populace; but nevertheless is a recognized albeit esoteric branch of the Jewish religion.

To Read Or Not To Read :

I have read reviews that slam this book for its love angle and gratuitous sex (which I didn’t find unwarranted at all).  The romance here is simply a support angle to the overall story of the book and is not the author’s point at all.  So if you are looking for a nice historical romance,  pass this up; this novel would be way out in left field.

However,  if you just want a well written story with a good historical background, The Witch of Cologne will be just the thing.  Although, be prepared for a very dark and somber tone (well matched with the era) throughout its entirety and for a substantial amount of graphic elements assiduously detailed in this book.

In A Nutshell :

Learner’s unconventional writing style marries quite well with her  objective of presenting a glimpse of medieval Europe in the cusp of social change, a dark and fearful transition for many,  when institutions of power, both political and religious, clawed desperately to maintain the status quo.  The story poses intelligent questions, some of which must have influenced how modern Europe evolved.

Don’t let the suggestive cover fool you into thinking this book is a shallow, sleazy read.  The book has the complexity and depth that makes it interesting and well worth your while — a perfect example  to heed the the adage:   “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

My Mark  :  Outstanding



As an additional book for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009, Second Nature was a good choice for its brevity and its unusual romance.

Author :  Alice Hoffman

First Publication Date :  February 1994

Publisher of First Edition :  G.P.  Putnam’s Sons

This Edition’s Publication Date :  April 1995  (mass paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher :  Berkley

ISBN 0-425-14681-2

No. of pages : 290

The Story :

An injured wildman is discovered by a pair of trappers and sent to a hospital for treatment and rehabilitation.  Having lived most of his life with wolves, Stephen, the “Wolfman”,  is considered unmanageable and his failure to assimilate himself in  human society signs his lifelong commitment to a mental hospital.  Before his transfer, Stephen risks asking help from Robin.  She helps him escape and teaches him to adapt socially.  Stephen learns to do so, little by little and in the process,  falls in love with her.   Meanwhile, animals around the neighborhood are being mysteriously murdered, their throats slit.   Soon, it is a little girl.  The neighborhood is terrified and they want their monster…

The Review :

If you pick up an Alice Hoffman novel, expect to always have a contemporary story steeped in a bit of fantasy or magic told in her lovely prose.  Second Nature tackles the human foible of judgement borne from fear and grief  and the  wonderful  inherent human propensity to love.

Hoffman’s writing style is graceful where her thoughts  segues seamlessly from one point to another.  She can move from pleasant to sinister without missing a beat.  The change is so subtle,  smooth and flawless; this is what I really appreciate in Hoffman’s style.

The Wolfman character is dealt with quite well, with Hoffman sketching a believable portrait of his emotions and his thoughts while the character tries to fit in a world he does not understand.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Some readers stay away from fantasy because one is required to “live in another world” while at it.  Hoffman, though, combines a sprinkling of fantasy in a vat of reality to come up with a sub-genre called “magic realism”.  Stories are contemporary with realistic characters and settings but the reader is still required to accept the magic or fantasy as a reality to be able to enjoy the genre well.

Hoffman revels in this genre.  With this book,  she seems to show a wonderful understanding of human nature,  its strengths and failures.

Unfortunately, there are some flaws in this novel, some absurdly unbelievable.  To cite an instance, Robin was able to take the Wolfman from the hospital without a furor being raised later over his whereabouts.  While gaffes like these would surely irritate some readers,  others, like me, may choose to ignore them and just go with the flow.   In doing so, you will  discover a novel with a lot of heart.

My Mark :  Quite Good!

This should be the last book in my list for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009.  I’ve finished the challenge but it’s a whole month earlier than the deadline, December 20.  So, I’ve decided to stretch my list.  See my additions here.

Author :  Anya Seton

Date of First Publication  :  1965

First Publisher :  Hodder and Stoughton

This Edition’s Publication Date :  May 1, 2006

This Edition’s Publisher :  Chicago Review Press

ISBN-10: 1556526008

ISBN-13: 978-1556526008

No. of pages :  448

The Story :

A young noble, Rumon, makes his way to England in his quest for Avalon when he is thrown into Merewyn’s way and through a deathbed promise  is forced to take responsibility for her.   Merewyn has been brought up to believe she is a descendant of the legendary King Arthur; but Rumon knows the truth of her barbaric and pagan bloodline.

In the course of their lives in England, Merewyn falls in love with him; but Rumon is oblivious as he gives his heart and soul to the beautiful Queen Alfrida.  After  his ill-fated affair with her, he slowly comes to love Merewyn as well.  But his love, just as hers before,  is thwarted by events.  And thus spins the saga of their love through their lives.

The Review :

There is something about old books and the way they are written that imbues them with  a charm all their own.  Avalon is such a book, first published in 1965.  I picked this up because the author, Anya Seton, was one I had admired after reading Katherine.

Both books showcase Seton’s style of romance which pits love against circumstance.  Her romance is more realistic and mature,  less involved with the fluff that makes for fairy tale finishes.  Love has to navigate through uncontrollable events life throws in the way.  Endings are poignant but not the totally happily-ever-after kind that rarely happens, if ever, in real life.   The feeling is satifsying, though,  in the sense that we get a better grip on how versatile and enduring true love can be.   In this particular novel, love for more than one person is possible although it exists in  different shades and gradations, dependent on character and chance.

Many readers  will enjoy the vivid backdrop of this story.  The 10th century comes alive with Seton’s characterization of real historical figures like Queen Alfrida, King Ethelred the Unready, Saint Dunstan, and with her accounts of how life was in a European era that saw Viking invasions and explorations.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Although not as good as “Katherine“, which was an outstanding read, “Avalon” is also a beautiful story in itself; but, it isn’t for every romance reader.  A mature reader would appreciate the emotions and the way the story unfolds rather than judge the characters’ likability quotient, as a younger reader would.  This is not a syrupy, shivery love story; but one that carries more depth as it plays out in the harsh circumstances of medieval life.

My Mark :  Very Good

I wanted a short, easy no-brainer.  I got everything I wanted in this :

Author : Annette Blair

Date of  Publication : December 2006

Publisher : Berkley Sensation  (Mass Paperback)

ISBN-10: 0786296577

ISBN-13: 978-0786296576

No of pages : 389

The Story :

Vickie, a witch in denial, inherits a wardrobe and opens it to find a beautifully carved carousel unicorn inside.  Desperate to pay her grandmother’s medical and funeral expenses, she advertises its sale on TV.  Rory, a descendant of the  once respectable Mackenzie clan now turned community pariah, sees  the woman of his dreams (I mean, literally) holding the answer to restore the good name of his family.

Long ago, his ancestor, a famous carver,  broke his engagement with a beautiful witch (Vickie’s grandmother) who people said, cast a curse upon the Scottish village.  Regretful all of his life, Rory’s grandfather, before he died,  sent his beloved witch his most splendid creation — a carousel unicorn, part of a merry-go-round that brought prosperity to the village;  but one that would never run again until the curse is lifted.

So, Rory goes to find this unicorn, with a mission to take it, bring it back, rebuild the carousel, and restore the community’s prosperity and his good name.  Only thing, he has to contend with the witch and choose between love and family honor.

The Review :

As I mentioned, I just wanted a short easy read, a no-brainer after “Exile. Well, a real no-brainer is what I got!  I know, I know…the synopsis sounds cheesy and serves me right for picking this out of a sale bin again just because the title was a parody of  “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe“.  I’m not above reading shallow, fun  lit and I thought this was a cute, little romance with some magic thrown into it.  NOT!

The characters were odd and totally without some self-respect, either.  I don’t know what Blair was trying to accomplish. For instance, I think she wanted everything for her main character, Vickie.  She wanted her sexy, yet dressed her in dowdy vintage clothes;  a bold sex siren yet a frightened virgin (technically speaking since she deflowered herself years ago with dildos all named Brock—*shudder, shudder*–but has never been with a man); bohemian, cluttered, and fun but essentially good for nothing — can’t do business, cook, clean, balance books, etc. to save her life!  So here comes the knight in shining armor, the ruggedly handsome Scot who can do everything!  Cook, clean, balance books, organize, repair anything, and make her and others’ blood  boil for want of this stud. Thankfully, he falls short of being perfect by his hermitic attitude.

With amateurish writing, a main character whose personality ridiculously morphs from one thing into another, and annoying minor characters in the mix, you just gotta be drunk to like this trash.

My Mark :  Poor — Laughable;  Don’t Bother

After two books on the supernatural in succession, I had the taste for something more grounded, more real.  Ironically, Exile was in my list for the Fall To Reading Challenge.  It’s a novel that can’t be anything but so painfully present— a fictitious story but one wholly based on current world events, dealing  in particular with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Author :  Richard North Patterson

Publication Date :  January 9, 2007  (Hardcover – 1st edition)

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

ISBN-10: 0805079475

ISBN-13: 978-0805079470

No. of pages :  576

The Story:

The hopes for a beginning toward peace between Israel and its Palestinian inhabitants are dashed when Jewish Prime Minister Amos Ben-Aron is assassinated by a Palestinian suicide bomber on American soil.

A brilliant Jewish lawyer and  promising politician,  David,  witnesses the horrifying murder of the man whom he admires and believes to be the catalyst for peace in the Middle East.  Suddenly he gets a call from a woman whom he had allowed himself to forget.  Hana Arif, the Palestinian law student he had been helplessly in love with  thirteen years ago,  suddenly calls and says she has been accused of being instrumental to the crime.   Would David help her?

Against the certainty of becoming a pariah in his Jewish community, of irredeemably breaking his engagement with his Jewish fiance,  and of wiping out the brilliant political career path he had been so ambitious of, David with his ideals and buried passion, takes up the cudgels of a seemingly impossible case to exonerate Hana.

The case impels him to take a closer look at his culture and at the long-standing enmity between Palestinians and Jews, by going through their histories and understanding both sides’ perspectives.  David follows a dangerous trail for information which takes him to Israel, the West Bank,  and Lebanon as he chases the elusive truth to save his client.

The Review :

I am writing this review just after I have turned the last page of this book.  I’ve been so riveted by it, turning page after page well into the night, as I came to understand much more about the volatile Palestinian-Israeli crisis.

Patterson has written a rare combination of a page-turner and an educational read which explains the present complex issues in the Middle East conflict.   Although couched in fiction, this book is a definite eye-opener  to those who do not understand or had been indifferent to the crisis that presently is, I believe, the greatest and most urgent threat to world peace.

Exile is the type of fiction novel that through its entertainment value, compels you to know more beyond it.  I am inspired to research more on the subject of the ongoing war between the Jews, Palestinians, and the Arab world at large.  It is scary in its magnitude of hatred and seemingly hopeless for its dearth of solution as each side believes so absolutely in the right of its cause.   Basically a war of land rights and sovereignty,  it draws its complexities from bringing  religion, racial history and culture, internal factions, and international politics into the fray, a tangle of elements that cannot be extricated singly to make solutions.

Patterson’s courtroom scenes are energetic,  intense, and a good read.  There is a lot going for this book as a suspense-crime-courtroom-thriller.  But the true merit of this book comes from the extensively researched issues backgounding this novel and the humane and impartial way the author represents the conflict for both sides that one cannot help but be emotionally moved at the plight of both Palestinians and Jews.

The novel never takes sides.  It simply presents the conflict from both perspectives and leaves it up to you to decide who is right.  Since it is impossible for one to make such an opinion with this book alone, Exile goads you to delve and learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an open  and unbiased  mind.  Current events will never seem so one-dimensional and so distant after this.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Indeed, an important read!  To those, like me, who have been partially oblivious to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, this book should constitute the top of your TBR pile.  This novel is a good starter to point our way toward informing ourselves of a current volatile dilemma facing the world today.   Muslim, Christian, Jew, atheist…whatever your leanings, we still cannot ignore that we are all inextricably connected and therefore will be involved, one way or another,  in this war.

It’s a thick novel but once you’re in it, you’d never feel its length.  In fact, you may end up wanting to know much more.

In A Nutshell:

Exile has successfully given an impartial yet emotional account of the Mid-East crisis.  It is not a finger-pointer ; no side is singled out to blame for starting this whole mess.  As it is, it is everyone and no one and but really the sordid side of human nature that has foisted this problem on us all.  As the author aptly writes:

“…The Promised Land, which many of each side believed was promised to them alone, might be consumed not merely by hatred and violence but also by the most banal of human faults—a failure to imagine the life of another.  The only common denominator of occupation was that it degraded everyone.” —- p. 401

“You know what amazes me, Zev?  it’s that so many Jews and Palestinians don’t give a damn about one another’s stories.  Too many Palestinians don’t grasp why three thousand years of death and persecution make Jews want their own homeland, or how suicide bombings alienate Jews and extend the occupation.   Too many Jews refuse to acknowledge their role in the misery of Palestinians since 1948, or that the daily toll of occupation helps fuel more hatred and violence.  So both become cliches:  Jews are victims and oppressors; Palestinians are victims and terrorists.  And the cycle of death rolls on… In three short weeks I’ve seen all kinds of suffering, from the families in Haifa to the misery of Hana’s parents.   But they live in different worlds…” — p.  407

Please pick up this book and be aware.  It’s a superb read, a must-read,  and will be well worth your time.

My Mark :  Excellent! +++